It’s that four-letter word that all of us know very well, fear. We can try to run from it, hide from it or ignore it. Eventually, it finds us, and when it does it latches on like a leech. Always there, eating away at us, if left unchecked.
We enter this world, as babies, with only two fears. Yet, somewhere along the way, we learn to become increasingly fearful of the world around us. Partially to help us safely navigate our way through this crazy thing called life.
It’s common to immediately associate fear with something negative, but fear in itself is just a self-preservation mechanism. At its root, fear is supposed to protect us from the unknown. Specifically, the various dangers that lurk in the unknown. As we grow and experience life, we also add to our portfolio of fears. Those two innate fears, fear of falling and fear of loud noises, are accompanied by a unique assortment of additional fears that become an integral part of who we are. Some are healthy (keep us out of trouble) others are unhealthy (hold us back). My question is then, how do you distinguish between the two? And if you can, how can you optimize your use of healthy fears while minimizing the negative effects of unhealthy ones?
Healthy vs. Unhealthy
Distinguishing between healthy (rational) and unhealthy (irrational) fears is quite the personal ordeal. Healthy fears can help guide/keep you on the right track while an unhealthy fear can steer you right off. Fear is our personal danger alarm, it lets us know when something is or may be wrong.
Then there are unhealthy fears, these are most often irrational fears known as phobias. Fearing something when there is (rationally speaking) not really anything to fear.
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.— Seneca
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to discredit the way people experience their phobias. However, I am here to point out the unhealthy impact it can have on your life. Once you acknowledge that, you are one step closer to doing something about the negative impact it can have on your life. Still, our fears can be so deep-rooted that it can sometimes be hard to draw the line. It can be hard to not let our fears become a huge part of who we are to the point where they define us.
The Power of Fear
Fear is powerful, that is a fact. Whether or not that power is used as a motivator in your life or as an inhibitor is completely up to you.
Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.— Japanese Proverb
Whether or not you surrender to it and allow it to consume your life is also up to you, even when it might seem as if you have absolutely no control over the matter.
Speaking of control, quite often fear can and is used to control people. It is a powerful incentive that can be used to coerce and sway people to do the bidding of others. One such form of control, that we might not even perceive as control right away is peer/societal pressure.
In our society fear tends to have a negative connotation. Often times we associate it with weakness or cowardice. You can be ridiculed or become the victim of peer pressure for not wanting to say or do something that is socially excepted and the norm. That, in itself, is the power of fear. Depending on the impact and the influence that those who instill fear in you have, you can feel completely powerless and at the mercy of these people. Therefore it is important for us to understand and master our fears so that others do not use them against us, to control us.
We live in a fear-driven society that motivates us by playing into our most primal fears. As humans, we have an innate need to belong, to feel accepted, to succeed (not fail). Many of our daily social interactions tap into these fears, and most societal structures are set up knowing that we as individuals are susceptible to these fears. We can feel forced to participate out of fear of not belonging, we can feel anxiety due to the pressure to belong, get good grades and ultimately succeed. School is just the beginning of it all, once you graduate the race starts. The fear-powered rat race we are all a part of commences.
Ignorance and Fear
One of the scariest places I can think of in this world is the intersection between ignorance and fear.
Now, how can fear be rational when we lack the knowledge or information about it? In other words, if we are ignorant about our fears, how do we know what exactly it is that we are afraid of? Is it then not just a belief in a fear of something rather than truly fearing it?
Ignorance is the parent of fear.— Herman Melville
When you are at the mercy of your fears you essentially let go of the reigns and leave them for whoever feels like picking them up. Not saying we have to be fully in control of ourselves all the time, nothing wrong with letting loose. But at all times, as a society, we expect all individuals to have a basic level of control over themselves. It can start to get dangerous when individuals surrender even this basic level of control.
In time we hate that which we often fear.— William Shakespeare
When we as individuals surrender even our basic level of control we make way for ignorance. And when we choose to remain uninformed, in time our ignorance gives way to fear and ultimately to hate. On a larger scale, one of the most dangerous things out there has to be when collective fear turns into collective hate. I believe we all play a part in ensuring that it does not reach that magnitude.
Overcoming It / Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
It takes courage to be yourself. It takes courage to stare your fears in the face and tackle them head-on. When you take charge you can overcome that which tends to hold you back and feel powerful. One thing to note, overcoming your fears does not necessarily mean eliminating them. Triumphing over your fears means understanding that which instills fear in you and why. It’s about getting to the root of your fear and accepting it.
The best way to understand your fear is by talking about it. I believe there is great power in talking about the things we experience. We do not always need to hold everything in. Even though you might be afraid of being rejected (no longer belonging) for sharing what you fear, the peace of mind you can achieve will be unparalleled.
Yet, some fears never go away, we just learn how to live with them and that is okay. When we talk about fears the focus should be on learning to overcome them rather than eliminating them.
Food For Thought
Why is it that as we grow our fears tend to have a stronger hold over us? Why is it that we become more susceptible to them? Somewhere after formal education ends and we start our journey of independence in the world, we find ourselves confronted by our fears. Almost as if before that we were sheltered and are now experiencing the full force of their influence on us.
It seems that the true test lies in how we handle the inevitable confrontation with our fears. In the end, this will determine the person you become.—TMSH
There is no shame in being afraid and absolutely nothing wrong with a healthy dose of fear. Fear can be our most powerful motivator. It can help us become more courageous in our effort to conquer it or not let it consume our lives. But fear should not consume us. We cannot let fear take over our lives and we definitely should not lead a life driven by fear.
Ideally, we aim to live an authentic life in which fear is a healthy aspect of it and not an all-encompassing factor. A life in which we retain basic control over ourselves and choose to be informed in order to leave little to no room for ignorance. In doing so, we hope to master our fears and keep hate out of our hearts.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
— Nelson Mandela